Stories

Consolidating peace and democracy by building a more vibrant civil society Stories

11 May, 2021

Civil society organizations (CSO) are central to democratic processes. They act as enablers of public participation in decision-making and play a critical role in enhancing institutional accountability and public service delivery. A dynamic civil society can contribute to improvements in governance and is fundamental to building trust between government and citizens.

In 2015, when the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet – a coalition of civil society groups – won the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to promoting political dialogue and preventing a catastrophic revolution in Tunisia, the realization that we were contributing as a Cowater International team to the major changes happening in Tunisia felt both humbling and transformational.

For over a decade, we have been an important EU partner in delivering capacity building for civil society organizations. One of the main instruments of EU support for CSOs in the North Africa and Middle East (MENA) region is the Civil Society Facility South (CSFS). As a CSFS implementer, Cowater International’s work has focused on advancing accountability, transparency, promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. We contributed to improving the capacity of CSO actors in MENA to effectively participate in public policy dialogues and debates, particularly around monitoring the delivery of public services for citizens.

Cowater International’s participation in civil society-focused activities started in the aftermath of the Arab Spring events in the early 2010s. Through a series of regional meetings and learning activities, our support was critical in helping CSOs at the local, regional and national levels to develop and present a wide range of position papers and thematic policy briefs. Moreover, Cowater International’s support enabled a dialogue to redefine the role of civil society players in engaging local authorities to craft more inclusive and participatory public policies.

As an international development company with over 36 years of global project implementation expertise, we were honoured to contribute to the EU’s flagship CSFS initiative in the MENA region. First, the project has helped establish a structured dialogue between the European Union and regional civil society organizations. Second, it strengthened CSO networks and laid the groundwork for further support and capacity building activities. Third, the project was an essential element of the European Union’s strategy to support dialogue between civil society actors and local authorities. Finally, it managed to create national and regional thematic expert groups through participatory mechanisms such as online labs and dialogue fellows, which proved critical to building the sustainability of project interventions and ensured national ownership of civil society development efforts. Ultimately, the project contributed to establishing monitoring mechanisms to improve public service delivery, enhancing the transparency of public decision-making processes, and supporting better policy outcomes for citizens.

An important result supported by the CSFS program has been the establishment of an online platform that provides access to knowledge and best practices across CSFS digital communities. In addition, a regional online platform entitled “Café Debate” is providing a virtual space for North African CSOs and youth to debate and engage on salient regional and global policy and development issues.

Ten years after the Arab Spring reverberated across the MENA region, Cowater International is delighted to have been selected by the European Union to support the EU ROSE programme in Tunisia. The programme is implemented in close cooperation with the European Union and Tunisian civil society and will focus on strengthening the dialogue between CSOs and government authorities, improving public policy development and building stronger democratic institutions that can better serve all Tunisians.


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